October 28, 2013
Can it? I think it can. In fact I would say on a personal level many of us need to be involved in some form of self-expression in the same way children need to play. To make; to do; to experience… I don’t believe we need any more reason to create beyond the experience of being involved. The physical outcome (the art work) is secondary. The real treasure is in the practice.
Is photography art?
Photographic art is a curly thing to define. For this discussion I am considering art as any piece of work which goes beyond being a straight photograph and pushes into something evocative. It could fall into the category of affect art, photos that don’t need a 100-page thesis to have relevance.
Photography is a medium of abstraction.
A photo is an exceptionally specific portrayal of a brief glimpse of light bouncing through the atmosphere. It is a representation of the subject matter, which eliminates the framework of continuity, sound, smell and most importantly context. Surely this medium is tailor made for innovative outcomes!
Craft versus Art
Some of the photographs we assemble over our lifetime can be exceptional by virtue of the directions we follow as practitioners. Whether or not those images are unique will depend largely on the depth in which we interrogate the subject matter we are presented with. If we shoot a landscape from the scenic lookout, our works will be repetition of all the other folk who have stood on that spot and pointed their camera at the horizon. I would call these images craft. Yet if we are camped on the plains, setup before dawn to catch first light through an exciting composition, we may be cutting a new path. Some of these images could be art. What is most crucial is putting in the effort to keep expanding ideas even after you have nailed a strong image.
As a commercial photographer it’s rare to have total control over any piece of work I make. When I am making art it’s a personal journey; my decisions, my choices and my motivations. The skills I’ve learnt from experimentation when shooting and in postproduction have fed straight back into my skill base, both professionally and creatively. I take huge pride in my professional work but my favourite art works are amongst my most prized possessions. Making art is the backbone of my enthusiasm for photography. I find the process of making these works incredibly satisfying. I feel it’s imperative to be making art as part of my practice as it keeps me pushing past what I think I know.
Playing the long game
I have a hand full of slow burning personal art projects that I add to periodically and each is an exploration or pathway that I want to investigate. These works are being produced primarily for the joy of the doing. They are long-term projects that may never have an end or even a designated outcome. Some of these areas I have barely started whilst others have already consumed hundreds of hours.
But I don’t have time
Technology has become an astonishing diversion. We have access to thoroughly engaging entertainments that have us constantly distracted from our own company. Perhaps we have become more fixated on what others are doing rather than what we are doing. If you were to turn off your phone, TV and Internet for a few days you would see how much space there actually is for your projects. If you could put aside twenty minutes a day you would amass over a hundred hours in a year. In a hundred hours you could hand make a canoe or restore a motorbike or build a guitar or draw 25 drawings or photograph a cookbook. Incrementally over time we can achieve an enormous amount but only after we have made the decision to get started. Once you start a really satisfying project your output will propel itself.
Why creating art makes us better people
Through creativity we are engaging in a personally meaningful practice. Finding purpose is exciting and makes us more likely to feel better about ourselves. We have more reason to share ideas, techniques and experiences with others, which leads to more contact with like-minded people and a broadening of community. Which inturn gives us a greater pool of resources and ideas to draw upon. There is a great sense of satisfaction from having a project and being productive. Constantly pushing into unconventional areas of thought keeps us striving for new ideas, which keeps our minds flexible. All of this equals a better version of us.
Give yourself permission
So I would say make art because it will feed you in both the doing and the outcomes. Start a little project today!! Don’t get fixated on comparisons to other people’s work or even why you are making the work, just do it for yourself. If as a by-product of your toil you end up with an exhibition in the Tate, fantastic! If not you have devoted part of your life to the soul food that is being a practicing artist.
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